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George Whitefield’s Gospel Wakefulness

Jan 08, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

“I must bear testimony to my old friend Mr. Charles Wesley, he put a book into my hands, called, The Life of God and the Soul of Man, whereby God showed me, that I must be born again, or be damned. I know the place: it may be superstitious, perhaps, but whenever I go to Oxford, I cannot help running to that place where Jesus Christ first revealed himself to me, and gave me the new birth. [Scougal] says, a man may go to church, say his prayers, receive the sacrament, and yet, my brethren, not be a Christian. How did my heart rise, how did my heart shutter, like a poor man that is afraid to look into his account-books, lest he should find himself a bankrupt: yet shall I burn that book, shall I throw it down, shall I put it by, or shall I search into it? I did, and, holding the book in my hand, thus addressed the God of heaven and earth: Lord, if I am not a Christian, if I am not a real one, for Jesus Christ’s sake, show me what Christianity is, that I may not be damned at last. I read a little further, and the cheat was discovered; oh, says the author, they that know anything of religion know it is a vital union with the son of God, Christ formed in the heart; oh what a way of divine life did break in upon my poor soul. . . . Oh! With what joy—Joy unspeakable—even joy that was full of, and big with glory, was my soul filled.”

– From a 1769 sermon, quoted in Michael A. G. Haykin, editor, The Revived Puritan: The Spirituality of George Whitefield (Joshua Press, 2000) pp. 25-26.

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Congregations Have Wish-Dreams Too

Jan 05, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God
– Bonhoeffer, Life Together

That little book is one of the most formative of my life and ministry. And as a pastor, I take the particular section on what Bonhoeffer calls the “wish-dream” very much to heart. I wrote extensively on this subject in The Pastor’s Justification, but the gist is this: The vision for the church that a pastor wants can get in the way of his ministry to the church God has actually given him, and because the wish-dream church is an idol, it prevents us from actually loving our church well.

I think Bonhoeffer’s words are quite sobering and every pastor ought to consider them well. Idolatry is never far from us. From any of us.

Because the laity have wish-dreams too. They can have a wish-dream church experience or community. They can have wish-dream pastors. And these visions quench the Spirit’s working in the real stuff of church and ministry.

When a congregation becomes preoccupied with a vision for the church experience it wants, and then has to actually participate in the messiness of authentic Christian community, the contrast is jarring. Disappointed by the church’s failure to measure up to the image, the complaints begin, the justifications of the complaints take root, along with bitterness and irritation.

When a church person becomes preoccupied with their vision of the ideal pastor, their current pastor’s flaws become more pronounced, more egregious. Scores are kept. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations flourish. Slights are imagined. Strengths seem negligible, weaknesses insurmountable. The criticism begins, then the grapevine chatter, then the anonymous complaints, then the cold shoulders, the specious charges, the spirit of discouragement. All of it gets spiritualized, even as the wish-dreamer’s heart is hardening. The wish-dream keeps churches from loving their pastors and often abets hurting them.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
— 1 John 5:21

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Our Sanctuary is No Afterthought

Dec 30, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

A glorious throne set on high from the beginning
is the place of our sanctuary.

— Jeremiah 15:12

As overwhelming as our trials can be, as enveloping as the darkness appears, as deep as the floodwaters grow, we can find solace of heart in knowing our souls are safe in a place bigger, broader, deeper than any distress. Our place of safety is no refugee tent thrown together last second. The Triune Godhead is not scrambling to keep us covered. Our security has been established in the heavens from the very beginning, and it will be standing there, keeping us sound in Christ at the end, and forevermore.

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A Hymn

Dec 16, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

The LORD our God is Lord of Hosts.
He holds all time within his hand.
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
From all eternity will stand.

From deepest deep, before the start
God has declared the sweetest end
He’s loved and purposed in his heart
The brokenness of man to mend.

Brother Jesus his siblings saves
And conquers sin upon the cross
The death-proof king then slips the grave
And brings redemption to the lost.

Should we alight to heavens’ heights
Or seek the dark of deepest grave,
Each space is filled with splendid light.
Christ meets us there with pow’r to save.

The deadest heart is summoned forth,
And granted grace in second birth.
And as in us it conquers more,
His kingdom comes upon the earth

Exalted Son we wait to see,
Christ’s fame a banner soon unfurled.
As raging waters fill the seas,
His glory then will fill the world.

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The Gospel, Fathoms Deep

Dec 04, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

Ever felt Ephesians 2:1-10? You’ve probably read it, maybe multiple times. But ever felt it? Ever drunk it? Steeped in it? Had it knock you over?

Ephesians 2:1-3 is just brutal. Paul pulls no punches. How bad are we? Really, really, really, ridiculously bad. According to those three short verses we are, apart from Christ, dead. Dead, Paul says. Like, you know, dead-dead.

“But wait,” we think, “I sure didn’t feel dead. I could do stuff.” Oh, you mean like obeying your appetites (v.3), following the way of the world (v.2), and worshiping Satan (v.2)? Good job there.

It doesn’t get worse than this. We are dead, belly-ruled, world-following, devil worshipers. The curse we both suffer and embrace has us hemmed in on all sides. There is no escaping. We are much, much worse than we think we are.

Oh! But verse 4! Two sweet words start the reversal of our will and fate. Two words. Not “be still” but with the same effect — the ten-hutting of a storm. Two words that part the sea, roll back the darkness with violent force, like the jolting, snapping up of window shades. Two little words like wings of a seraph, breaking through our tomb with a bright ray of light and lifting us up and through the spiritual aether, seating us in the heavenlies (v.6).

“But God.”

Two words: the crash cart, the smelling salts, the sweet manna, the dagger in the devil’s neckbone.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ . . .

You feel that? Not if you didn’t feel verses one through three, you didn’t. “Til sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet,” Thomas Watson tells us.

The curse is four fathoms deep and un-swim-uppable. But “but God” signals the divine retrieval, our Spiritual surfacing, our deliverance. “But God” barrels in, carrying us out in two strong arms. “But God” heralds the arrival of God’s glory, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and in its wake trails the train of all the blessings Christ has purchased for us with himself.

If you understand those two words — “but God” — they will save your soul.
James Montgomery Boice

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OFI Conference, January 15-17

Nov 24, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

Join Daniel Montgomery, Dave Harvey, and myself in Tallahassee, Florida January 15-17 for the Of First Importance Conference.

(OFI) Conference exists to help pastors and ministry leaders consider what it really looks like to prioritize the good news of Jesus in life and ministry.

More info and registration at link above.

static.squarespace.com

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Love When’s

Nov 12, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

When is God love?

When you are in tribulation, Love will bring you back to himself (Deut. 4:30).

When you are surrounded by the enemy, Love will keep you from evil (Deut. 23:9).

When you are invited to honor, Love will keep you humble (Matt. 14:8).

When you are judged, Love will justify you (Rom. 3:4).

When you are slandered, Love will vindicate you (1 Pet. 3:16).

When you die, Love will deliver you (Prov. 11:7-8).

When you are raised, Love will transform you (1 Cor. 15:50-51).

God is Love at all times.

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Repentance Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Nov 08, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
– Luke 17:20-21

In Jesus’ day, the Jewish world was fractured into factions, each of which sought to usher in or live out the kingdom of God in its own way. The promised land was owned and ruled by Rome, and everybody had a take on how God might overthrow the oppressive occupation and establish the kingdom of heaven.

The Sadducees sold out theologically and collaborated with the pagan rulers for political and financial benefit. The Pharisees sought to live peaceably within the cities, in Rome but not of Rome as it were, obeying the laws of the land but seeking as diligently and rigorously as possible to apply the Mosaic law to every minute detail of life in the hopes their works might merit them deliverance. The Essenes hightailed it out to the wilderness, became hermits, embraced gnosticism, withdrew and battened down the hatches. The Zealots kept taking up arms, wanting to usher in the kingdom of God through the power of the sword.

When Jesus’ cousin grew up into this tumultuous landscape and answered YHWH’s call upon his life, he went out to the Jordan River, the historic borderline of deliverance for Israel, the line Joshua had led them across from desert wandering into the Promised Land. And when he got to the Jordan, John didn’t begin conspiring. He didn’t amass arms, begin a grassroots political campaign, urge rigorous law-keeping, or preach any of the other myriad ways his countrymen were seeking to establish the kingdom. He simply said the kingdom was at hand and if anybody wanted in he would be more than happy to dunk them in the river.

“Repent!” he called. And “Repent!” his cousin, our Lord Jesus, called after taking the reigns of John’s burgeoning kingdom community.

The way into the kingdom life is the same way out of worldly life — death. As baptism illustrates, the way into the kingdom is the way of death, burial, and resurrection.
Go to a new place, this action commands us. Leave the old one. Abandon it and its ways, its self-idolatry in the guise of spirituality.

Today’s Essenes are the gnosis-exalting hip churches and the law-exalting fundy churches, each preaching legalism of a different sort and rendering different sorts of people untouchable. They advocate withdrawal from either “church people” or “the world,” as if true kingdom enlightenment exists in an ecclesiological utopia hermetically sealed off and protected by either their cultural savvy or their cultural avoidance.

Today’s Pharisees are people like me, desperately trying to please God through our stuff, our merit, our actions, sincerely wanting to apply God’s Word to our life but always slipping down the slope of applying our life to God’s work. We trust our behavior, our church programs, our well-turned phrases. Today’s Pharisees are the promoters of the entertainment-driven, self-help preaching, program-trusting whitewashed tombs we arrogantly call churches.

Today’s Sadducees are the politicians who use churches, Christians, and the language of Scripture to achieve power. And they are the ones who help them, believing if the right man were in the right role, God would “heal our land.” They believe the kingdom of God can be spread through politics, networking, the right policies, the right strategies, the right legislations. They are the churches who sell out to celebrities and powerful personalities.

Today’s Zealots are anybody and everybody who thinks the kingdom comes with signs to be observed: elections, placards, T-shirts, debates, attendance, programs. Or worse: bombings, shootings.

All of it, idolatry. All of us, idolaters.

And Jesus says to us every day, all day, as he said all day every day then, “Repent!”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
– Matthew 16:24

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5 Good Words of Pastoral Advice That Stuck

Oct 09, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

adviceI took my first vocational ministry position the summer I graduated high school (1994), becoming the youth minister for Zion Chinese Baptist Church. (You read that right.) In the twenty years since, I’ve heard a lot of good words on ministry and ministry life, and while a lot has been good, a few choice bits of wisdom have stuck with me since I heard them and have proven truer and truer over the years. Here are just five.

1. “The core you start with isn’t the core you finish with.” – Bill Hybels

Hybels did not say this to me personally, but he said it in a workshop at the 1996 Willow Creek Church Leadership Conference. I don’t know why it stuck with me then — I was a youth pastor at a Willow model church, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of church planting or anything then. I’ve sifted out a lot I’ve heard from the church growth guys, but this one I’ve kept and it’s pretty true, in a variety of ways. I’ve had guys I was close with, been on leadership teams and in the trenches with, decide the whole “living a Christian life thing” wasn’t for them. You’re biggest fans can turn into your biggest critics, and often do. Mainly because they are your biggest fans because there’s some kind of idolatry they’re getting out of you, seeing you as a functional savior in some way. And then you disappoint them and BOOM: it’s all over. But even if nobody turns on you or falls out with you, the longer you go in ministry, you see the seasons of life and the growth of a church or ministry takes the rose-colored glasses off of “doing ministry” with the same people forever. Some people get to do that. Most don’t. The core you start with is not the core you finish with.

2. “You must renounce comfort as the chief value of your life.” – Mike Ayers

Mike was my first pastoral mentor, the guy whose ministry actually kept my wife and I sane and in ministry after I’d had a bad experience at a previous church that almost made me give up church altogether. He was the first guy to really take me under his wing and trust me and empower me and take me seriously, even as a young punk. I served as a youth minister at his church and learned a lot, especially about loving the lost and building relationships. Mike and his family have been through a lot themselves, so when I heard him say this line in a sermon, I knew it came from a place of authenticity. It stuck with me. And it’s exceptionally important for all Christians, including pastors, who can get too comfortable with praise and growth and too despondent with criticism and conflict.

3. “Whatever your elders are, your church will become.” – Ray Ortlund

It’s no news to regular readers that Ray is my Yoda. I don’t remember the context of him saying this, but I remember him saying it and I took it to heart. When we went about establishing elders at Middletown, I remembered this sound word of wisdom. So I looked not just for guys who met the biblical requirements for eldership, as high a bar as that is, I also tried to get guys with different personality types and outlooks and perspectives on theological non-essentials. But I also became a stickler for the biblical qualifications that many churches seem to gloss over — long-temperedness, gentleness, good public reputations, etc. If my church is going to be come like the leadership that is modeled for them, I wanted conformity on the biblical qualifications and orthodoxy but high maturity and as much diversity as possible otherwise.

4. “Don’t say something about someone you won’t say to them.” – Andy Stanley

I heard this in a Stanley teaching series called “Life Rules,” which with only a few caveats I recommend. I’ve used it numerous times. As with Hybels, I don’t resonate with a whole lot Stanley says, but this word of advice has stuck with me and I’ve used it with great fruitfulness. In Christian community and in pastoral ministry, the opportunities for gossip and other relational sins are practically infinite. I am a great sinner who screws up a lot, but I’ve tried to maintain this rule for how I talk about people. If I have a problem with someone, I either swallow it or I take it to them. If I’m not willing or able to do that, I certainly can’t talk about it with others. There’s so much crooked speech in the church, it’s ridiculous. Stanley’s advice is good for keeping the lines straight and the accounts current.

5. “You don’t just wipe away the web; you’ve got to crush the spider.” – Steven Taylor

Pastor Steve was one of my pastors when I was a kid. I think I was in the ninth grade when he said this in a sermon at Sandia Baptist Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I confess I have forgotten a lot of what he preached, but this line hooked into my brain and got me. For a kid with a tender conscience and struggling with lust, my eyes were opened to how I ought to approach the war on the flesh. Pastor Steve said you don’t just wipe away the effects of sin; you’ve got to be “extreme,” go to the source of temptation. In my adolescent way of thinking at the time, I went home and took the TV set out of my room. Since then, I’ve been able to apply this principle to even deeper actions of spiritual warfare, looking to the idolatrous roots of my behavioral sins as often as I can. But the advice is still good. Don’t just wipe away the web; crush the spider.

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I Love the Church, and That’s Why I Resigned

Oct 06, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

SealYesterday morning I undertook the difficult task of resigning the pastorate of Middletown Springs Community Church. The last five years have been a tremendous joy to me and my family, and making that announcement was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

I shared with my congregation that the sense of discontent I’d been feeling for more than a year had become gradually clearer and clearer to me as a matter of personal deficiency. This is always hard to admit. When I first began feeling overwhelmed, overburdened, over-tired, I simply assumed we were in a difficult ministry season. And we were. We still are. Our church has been through some tremendous suffering over the last couple of years, and with the growth we’ve experienced, new challenges and a higher pace of ministry with heavier demands have compounded the intense sorrow we’ve all been walking through.

But I eventually realized the problem was much deeper than that. It wasn’t entirely out there. It was in here. The truth is that I reached my capacity in leading the church well. I’d come to believe that I’d brought the church as far as my gifts would allow. Now, nobody else was saying that. But I knew it was true. And I didn’t know what to do with it.

I am not one to run. Especially since things have been going so well on the growth front. We have more than tripled in attendance the last five years, but even more importantly, we have seen an increase in souls saved by Christ and baptized, in young families and mature leaders moving to our area to join us on mission, and in forward-thinking vision, culminating largely in our efforts to plant a church in downtown Rutland, Vermont. So there’s nothing to run from, really. Nobody’s mad at me. There’s no conflict pushing me out or great sin disqualifying me. There’s just me. There’s just me realizing, “I don’t think I’m the right guy for what comes next.” It’s as if God has led me to the brink of the promised land and said, “You can’t go in.”

And while I was praying that God would change his mind — or just show me how to manage in the meantime — Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary called me. I was not looking to leave Vermont. I was not sending out resumes. I had been offered jobs before and have always flatly said “no” without thinking. But this time, I listened. I needed to. And the call was no less visionary, no less mission-minded, no less gospel-centered than my call to Middletown Springs. When I learned more about the seminary’s plan to engage, equip, and encourage local church pastors, something stirred in me. Something clicked in place, as if the tricky combination in my heart had finally landed on that last digit. I see clearly that a door has opened to a new season of serving the church with more intensity and a greater fit.

In March, we will be moving to Kansas City so that I may serve full-time at Midwestern Seminary and College as the Managing Editor of Resources and Director of Communications. There I will be leading a team of creatives and writers passionate about telling Midwestern’s story and developing ministry resources for the church. I am thrilled about this transition, because I share Midwestern’s love for the pastors who love their churches. They are the faithful, patient, unsung heroes in our day, and I am excited to serve them — as well as the young men who are becoming them.

I will continue to write and travel, speak and preach. We will seek out a local church to call home, a place to worship together as a family and to serve as the Lord leads, to be fed as I have fed. Lord willing, after some time, I would love to submit to some smaller role as shepherd according to my capacity. I do believe that is God’s calling on my life. At this time, he is asking me to answer it in contributing to the growing ministry of Midwestern. (We will be releasing some major projects in the months ahead, so stay tuned.) If my work has blessed you in any way over the last few years, I ask that you’d pray for my wife and daughters, for me, and for the seminary, that through this work God’s Son would be made more visible in the world and trusted as saving and satisfying.

And please pray for my church. Like my family, they are deeply saddened about this parting. Many in the congregation are shocked, confused. And as we all process this bittersweet transition together, I am planning over the next five months to continue pointing them to Christ with all the energy God works within me. Middletown Springs Community Church is unlike any church I’ve ever been privileged to call family. It has been an exceeding joy to be their shepherd for this relatively short time. They are, in the good sense, as Paul says, “my boast.” I will miss them terribly, because I love them with my guts. And because they have loved me and my family in the same way.

But they will be better than great after I’ve left. I am not taking the gospel with me! It is too hidden in their hearts. And I leave them, by God’s grace, spiritually healthier and more fixed on Christ’s finished work than I found them. I envy the man who has the honor to hold their hands and point them to Christ next. He will not be worthy of them. But he will be more worthy than me, which is what they need. And I’m grateful and honored that they have asked me to lead the process in finding that man.

churchweb_mediumWhen I finished my announcement yesterday morning, I began my planned exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. It’s important stuff. Sometimes I am a planter, other times a waterer, but all the time I am “not anything” (v.7). Middletown Church is “God’s field, God’s building” (v.9). I am learning with my flock and through them, by the Spirit’s power, how to point them to Jesus and get myself the heck out of the way. I hope God always grants me the grace to do that.

Christ the Lord is everything.

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